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France’s undocumented migrants face uncertain future under new immigration law

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France’s undocumented migrants face uncertain future under new immigration law

Despite facing serious labour shortages, the French government passed a more restrictive immigration bill this week after watering down measures that would have streamlined the legalisation of foreign workers. But some of the law’s new provisions may still offer a glimmer of hope for the country’s hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants. 

Until it became unstuck, the sticking point – as far as France’s right wing was concerned – for the Macron government’s sweeping immigration bill was how to deal with the country’s undocumented migrants.

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In presenting the bill’s initial text a year ago, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt included provisions making it easier to legalise undocumented migrants working in sectors with labour shortages. But representatives from Marine Le Pen‘s far-right National Rally party repeatedly stated they would not endorse legislation granting undocumented workers legal status. 

After the language of the bill was significantly weakened in a joint committee, Le Pen saw an opening for a strategic victory and changed course; it passed the National Assembly (lower house) on Tuesday with Le Pen’s endorsement.

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While it does not go as far as the original text, the new law gives undocumented workers in high-demand occupations a path to obtaining residency permits. Speaking a day after the law was passed, Darmanin said he expects the number of legalisations (régularisations) to double, with “ten thousand additional foreign workers each year“.

At the same time, the law will make it more difficult – and more risky – for undocumented workers in France: a law abolished by former president François Hollande that allowed police to fine foreigners up to €3,750 if they are found to be in the country unlawfully has been reintroduced. The bill also steps up sanctions against companies employing illegal workers.

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Sans papiers

The number of undocumented workers, or what the French call the “sans papiers” (without papers), is impossible to calculate. Darmanin himself estimates the number to be between 600,000 and 900,000.

Amadou* moved to France from Mali on a work visa in 2001 (overstaying a legal visa is the most common path to becoming an undocumented migrant in Europe).

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Finding work has never been a problem. He has primarily worked in the hospitality sector and in retirement homes – he currently works at a restaurant in Paris’s 7th arrondissement (district). “I’ve been working in France for 19 years without a holiday, without any sick days or absences,” he says.

Amadou first applied for working papers – to no avail – in 2012. The second time he applied, in 2018, he was denied because he didn’t have children or a partner to support. Since then, despite help from his employer, he has been unable to get another meeting.

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Amadou belongs to an association that supports undocumented migrants in Montreuil, a suburb just east of Paris. He often participates in protests but realises he and people like him are largely powerless. “I’d like to get my papers but, considering it’s [the politicians] who decide, we are not their priority,” he says.

France’s right-wing Les Republicains party and the far-right National Rally are reluctant to endorse a path towards legalisation because they believe migrants choose France for its advantageous social system. Therefore, the logic goes, making life difficult for migrants will prevent more migrants from coming – an idea that has no grounding in research.

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Read moreMacron accused of doing far-right’s bidding with stricter immigration law

By contrast, studies have found that legalising migrants has positive macroeconomic and fiscal outcomes in developed countries.

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Citing research from the Institute of Labour Economics, French economist Pierre Cahuc argued for the significant advantages that legalisation can have on a country’s economy in the French financial daily Les Echos.

“It is a crucial factor to take into account in the context of low growth and an ageing population,” Cahuc said. “From a purely fiscal standpoint, legalisation could also have a positive impact since declared work generates income for the state coffers.”

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Violaine Carrère, a lawyer at Gisti, an immigrant information and support group, agrees. “When you are on a payroll, you pay into social security. And with a real salary, you can spend more.” 

Not only does it benefit the economy, Carrère says, becoming legal enables migrants “to integrate fully and lead a dignified life”.

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“Staying stuck, working all the time – it’s not a life that many people would want to live,” says Amadou.

“Everyone wants to be happy, have a good life, a roof and a family. If you’re a sans papier it’s all out of reach.”

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Labour shortages

Under French President Emmanuel Macron, unemployment has fallen to 7.4% of the workforce, the lowest level in more than a decade. He has pledged to continue this mission, pushing for full employment (which the country’s labour organisation considers to be 5%).

At the same time, eight out of 10 professions in France saw labour shortages in 2022, according to the Directorate for Research, Studies and Statistics (Direction de l’Animation de la recherche, des Études et des Statistiques). This increased from seven out of 10 in 2021 due to France’s ageing population and a wave of resignations.

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Targeting low domestic unemployment rates while seeking a concurrent increase in migrant labour might seem contradictory. But it is simply not possible to make up for France’s worker shortfalls with a supply of domestic labour that is mostly young – some 17% of French youth are unemployed, significantly higher than the EU average. 

Research is focusing on three central reasons for this, says migration policy analyst Anna Piccinni. The first and second are skill disparities and remuneration: much of the increasingly qualified youth are not motivated by low-skilled jobs, especially if the salary level is not what they expect.

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Piccinni’s third reason is that labour shortages are often localised and migrants offer a more mobile labour force – filling the gaps that non-migrant workers might be unable or unwilling to fill. “Often, shortages of low-skilled labour are not in urban areas, where the youth move for their studies and then stick around for jobs,” she says. “Migrants have the potential to fill these gaps.”

Indeed, she points out that many municipalities across Europe are now creating incentives to retain migrant populations – such as Altena, a small town in Germany known for its successful integration scheme.

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This point has not been lost on France’s business community. Speaking to Radio Classique in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, Patrick Martin, who heads the French entrepreneurs’ union, said relying on a foreign labour force is necessary for the country.

“We are already experiencing enormous recruitment pressure,” Martin said. “We have to call a spade a spade and make a choice” to allow a larger immigrant workforce.

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For Piccinni, this cannot be achieved without fewer bureaucratic hurdles for issuing work permits to migrants who have already demonstrated a commitment to participating in the economy. “This has to be part of the solution,” she says.

Even the most anti-immigration governments in Europe are doing this, she points out. Georgia Meloni’s government in Italy signed a decree in March allowing 82,000 non-EU migrant workers to work in the country because of seasonal labour shortages.

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“Beyond the perception of migration as a threat to social cohesion and security, some governments are aware and willing to recognise the role it has in [fulfilling] employers’ needs,” Piccinni says.

* Not his real name

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Russia bars pro-peace candidate from presidential poll

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Russia bars pro-peace candidate from presidential poll

A Russian politician calling for peace in Ukraine hit a roadblock in her campaign Saturday, when Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to accept her initial nomination by a group of supporters, citing errors in the documents submitted.

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Former legislator Yekaterina Duntsova is calling for peace in Ukraine and hopes to challenge President Vladimir Putin, promoting her vision of a “humane” Russia “that’s peaceful, friendly and ready to cooperate with everyone on the principle of respect.”

“On Dec. 23, the Central Election Commission refused to register my initiative group,” Duntsova wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

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According to a Telegram channel close to Duntsova’s campaign, the commission found 100 errors in her nomination papers, including mistakes in the spelling of names.

“You are a young woman, you still have everything ahead of you. Any minus can always be turned into a plus,” the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said at the commission meeting, addressing Duntsova.

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Duntsova said that she would appeal the decision in Russia’s Supreme Court, and appealed to the leaders of the Yabloko (Apple) political party to nominate her as a candidate, as she said she would be unable to convene a second meeting of supporters.

Also on Saturday, Russian state media said that Yabloko party founder and leader Grigory Yavlinsky would not run for the presidency, citing the party’s press service. Speaking in a live interview on YouTube, once Duntsova’s appeal to Yabloko became known, Yavlinsky said that he “didn’t know” whether the party would consider her application.

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Duntsova took her first steps toward candidate status Sunday, when her run was endorsed by 500 supporters as required by Russian election law, and presented documents Wednesday to Russia’s Central Election Commission to register her nomination.

Communist Party supports Putin nomination

A number of Russian parties also announced which candidates they would be backing in the presidential election next March – which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win.

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The Russian Communist Party, the second largest party in the lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, announced after a secret ballot that it would support the nomination of Duma deputy Nikolai Kharitonov. As party leader Sergei Mironov previously said it would do, the Just Russia – For Truth party formally announced that it was supporting Putin’s nomination for the presidency.

Parties represented in the Duma do put forward candidates to run against Putin, but they represent only token opposition and are generally sympathetic to his agenda.

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The Civic Initiative party – which is not represented in the Duma – is expected to back the nomination of independent candidate Boris Nadezhdin, who is known for campaigning against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He has the support of a contingent of soldiers’ wives, unhappy with their husbands’ long deployments.

Meanwhile, Russian state media reported that volunteers from Putin’s campaign headquarters, together with branches of the United Russia party and a political coalition called the People’s Front, began collecting signatures in support of his candidacy as an independent.

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Putin submitted his nomination papers to the Central Election Commission on Monday. Under Russian law, independent candidates must be nominated by at least 500 supporters, and must also gather at least 300,000 signatures of support from 40 regions or more.

Pamfilova said Saturday that there were 29 applicants for candidacy in the election.

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Though it is normal for an opposition candidate to run against Putin – broadcaster Ksenia Sobchak, for example, was a liberal challenger in the 2018 presidential election – the tight control that he has established during 24 years in power makes his reelection in March all but assured. Prominent critics who could challenge him are either in prison or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned.

Earlier this month, the Duma set March 15-17 as the dates for the 2024 presidential election, moving Putin a step closer to a fifth term in office.

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(AP)

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Argentinian protest organisers will have to cover security costs, government says

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Argentinian protest organisers will have to cover security costs, government says

The organizers of the first protest against Argentine President Javier Milei’s government will have to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of security forces deployed to the demonstration, the government’s spokesman said Friday.

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Thousands turned out for the march on Wednesday to oppose Milei’s austerity measures and commemorate the deadly 2001 protests that followed the country’s economic meltdown.

Spokesman Manuel Adorni said a heavy deployment of police, paramilitary officers and anti-riot forces, cost 60 million pesos ($73,000 at the official exchange rate).

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“The bill will be sent to the social movements” who will “bear the responsibility of the cost which should not fall on citizens.”

Organizers had criticized the heavy show of security as an attempt at provocation.

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“This reminds me of the dictatorship” of 1976 to 1983, said Eduardo Belliboni, leader of the leftist movement Polo Obrero.

The security operation was supervised from police headquarters by the right-wing president’s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, televised images showed.

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Milei’s government has sought to clamp down on hundreds of annual traffic-clogging demonstrations in the capital, also threatening to withdraw social assistance from those who block roads.

(AFP)

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Two held after France grounds Nicaragua-bound plane over suspected ‘human trafficking’

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Two held after France grounds Nicaragua-bound plane over suspected ‘human trafficking’

French police were questioning two men Friday a day after officials grounded a Nicaragua-bound plane carrying more than 300 Indian passengers over suspected “human trafficking,” prosecutors said.

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The Airbus A340 had flown in from the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, landing at Vatry airport in eastern France for a technical stopover.

It was held by French authorities after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking,” the Paris prosecutors office told AFP. The two men in custody were among the passengers.

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“Identity checks are being carried on the 303 passengers and on the cabin crew,” said the prosecutor’s office. They were also checking the conditions in which the passengers were being transported and the purpose of their journey.

A source close to the case said that minors were among the passengers.

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The national anti-organised crime unit JUNALCO is leading the investigation, said prosecutors.

According to a source familiar with the case, the passengers might have planned to travel to Central America in order to attempt illegal entry into the United States or Canada.

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After landing in France, they were first kept on the aircraft, but then let out and given individual beds in the terminal building.

They were set to remain at the airport overnight Friday, local authorities said.

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The Indian embassy in France said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that the authorities in Paris had informed them of the situation.

French authorities informed us of a plane w/ 303 people, mostly Indian origin, from Dubai to Nicaragua detained on a technical halt at a French airport. Embassy team has reached & obtained consular access. We are investigating the situation, also ensuring wellbeing of passengers.

— India in France (@IndiaembFrance) December 22, 2023

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“Embassy team has reached & obtained consular access,” it added. “We are investigating the situation, also ensuring wellbeing of passengers.”

On Friday, police and gendarmes cordoned off the entire airport and white tarpaulin sheets covered the bay windows of the airport’s arrivals hall, an AFP journalist at the scene noted.

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Airline ‘has done nothing wrong’ 

The prefecture in the north-eastern department of Marne said the A340, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, “remained grounded on the tarmac at Vatry airport following its landing” on Thursday.

Legend Air has a small fleet of four aircraft, according to the Flightradar website.

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The plane had been due to refuel and was carrying 303 Indian nationals who had probably been working in the UAE, it said.

Liliana Bakayoko, who said she was a lawyer for the airline, told AFP the company believed it had done nothing wrong, had committed no offence “and is at the disposal of the French authorities”.

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But the airline would take legal action if the prosecutors file charges, she added.

The Vatry airport, located 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of Paris, serves mostly budget airlines.

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Border police can initially hold a foreign national for up to four days if they land in France and are prevented from travelling on to their intended destination.

French law allows for that period to be extended to eight days if a judge approves it, then another eight days in exceptional circumstances, up to a maximum of 26 days.

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Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.

(AFP)

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